Commentary: When Good Neighbors Go Bad

Commentary: When Good Neighbors Go Bad

Issues surfaced in Porterdale, Georgia, after owners of a new home were racially profiled by their neighbors. Turning vigilante is not the neighborly or right way to go.

Published April 26, 2012

Jean-Joseph Kalonji is a 61-year-old immigrant who came here from his native land, the Republic of Congo. He moved to the U.S. in the '90s in order to escape the brutally repressive regime of Congolese dictator Joseph Mobutu. Like thousands of immigrants, the former African school teacher worked hard, became an electrician, paid taxes and pursued the American Dream.

A few days ago, Kalonji’s son purchased a modest 11-acre home for them in a serene neighborhood in a community in Porterdale, Georgia, a town that is over 90 percent white. After closing, the realtor instructed them to change the locks.  So Jean-Joseph and his 51-year-old wife, Angelica, made plans to change the locks.

While the Kalonjis were changing the locks, their neighbor, Robert Canoles, saw the elderly couple working on the locks and feared the worst. He assumed that this bespectacled senior was attempting to rob the place. So, like a good neighbor, he and his son, Branden, grab their trusty AR-15s, snuck around to the front door of the Kalonjis house and held the couple at gun point.

When Jean-Joseph Kalonji tried to explain who they were and what they were doing, Branden asked to see their closing papers, which the two didn’t have. At this point, one of the Canoles allegedly says, “Shut up or I’ll shoot.”

Fearing for their lives, the couple complies. For roughly 10 minutes they remain at the mercy of these gun-wielding strangers. Then the Newton County Sheriff arrives on the scene. The Kalonjis are relieved to see the authorities so they can finally sort out this nightmare.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The sheriff asked the couple for the one thing they didn’t have — proof that they actually own the house. At this point Jean-Joseph Kalonji asked them to call his son to verify that they own the property, but he refused to do so. Instead of giving the interracial couple the benefit of the doubt and calling their realtor to verify their story, the sheriff charged them with loitering and prowling. Although the charges were later dropped, the pain of that humiliating moment still lingers with the Kalonjis.

Later, the police confiscated the Canoleses's guns and charged them with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespass. According to the Canoles, they don’t understand why they are being charged nor do they agree with having their guns taken.

"I don't know what they can charge me with," Canoles said late Monday afternoon, before the interview with authorities. "This is my Second Amendment right. Look, this is the country out here, and we protect our own."

That may be so, but the real issue here isn’t about the Canoleses right to bear arms. The real issue is who will protect the Kalonjis the next time the Canoleses or any other racially profiling neighbor turned vigilante who feels threatened by their Black neighbors decides to take justice into their own hands? From my vantage point, it certainly doesn’t seem like the Newton County Sheriff Department.

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(Photo: Courtesy Newton County Sheriffs Office)

Written by By Charlie Braxton


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